June 29, 2013

Summer reading, and more

My regrets for the dearth of blog posts as of late. I am feverishly working to prepare all of my upcoming seminars and trainings (while keeping up with forensic case work!). I hope to see some of you next month, either in Honolulu (at my APA workshop) or at Bond University in Queensland, where I will be hosting seminars and a forensic training. I hope to bring you blog posts about these and other experiences, as time allows. In the meantime, here are a few snippets and recommendations for summer reading:

High Price: A neuroscientist’s journey of self-discovery that challenges everything you know about drugs and society 

You have probably heard of the rat studies in which rats -- allowed to press a lever to get either drugs or food -- will repeatedly choose drugs, thereby starving themselves. What you may not know is that those rats are locked in little cages all by themselves, with no friends or partners and nothing to do. Give them a pleasant life -- buddies to pal around with, cuties to hook up with, and games to play -- and they don't get strung out. It would be like running a drug study on prisoners in solitary confinement, and then claiming that your results generalize to the free world.

This is one of the more illuminating examples in Harvard psychology professor Carl Hart's new page-turner, High Price. Hart's goal is to show that current U.S. drug policy is more about racism than brain science. Unusually, his vehicle for this message is a memoir rather than an academic text. It's a courageous memoir, in which he describes his own background and upbringing in a rough section of Miami, Florida. The book is weighted more toward autobiography than the scientific research, but is quite intriguing nonetheless, illuminating the chance factors that shape our lives, and the destructive impact of drug laws on African American communities in particular.

Hart also describes studies by him and his colleagues at Columbia, in which they recruited cocaine and methamphetamine addicts to live in a lab for a couple of weeks, and get paid to take high-quality drugs. Not a bad deal. Again contrary to the dominant messages about zombie drug fiends (think of those fried-egg ads about "your brain on drugs"), the addicts made quite rational choices about whether and when to take drugs, thereby highlighting the potential for rehabilitation.

My Amazon review is HERE; video interviews with the author can be viewed HERE.

The other Wes Moore: One name, two fates

Speaking of the chance factors in life (and also drugs, race and memoirs), I have just been listening to the audio version of a fascinating book about two young Black men with the same name and similar backgrounds, both with ties to the same troubled section of drug-plagued Baltimore (think The Wire). One grew up to become a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence for a botched jewelry-store robbery.

"The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his," Moore writes.

Moore alternates the voices to narrate the stories of both men and, by extension, "a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world."

The book is HERE

Don't trust your memory: New study on Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out.

(No, wait. Wrong lead. That was the one we used to play in the newsroom on boring days. We would each start a story with the dark-and-stormy-night lead, and go from there. Let me start again.)

It was New Year's Eve during your deployment in Afghanistan. Suddenly, a missile exploded. Gravel flew. Only through sheer luck was no one injured.

Surreptitiously fed information about this fictional event and then asked about it seven months later, about one out of every four Dutch soldiers in a larger study on PTSD falsely recalled experiencing the missile attack. Individuals with lower intelligence and those who experienced high arousal and more stressors on deployment were more vulnerable to believing misinformation.

It’s yet one more study in a growing body of data suggesting that we should take what people say with an enormous grain of salt -- especially in the contexts in which we forensic professionals often work, involving high-stress events and subjects with cognitive vulnerabilities.

The article, from the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, is available online (without a subscription) HERE.

Dark period in U.S. history: Widespread abuse of mentally ill prisoners documented

It has been an extraordinary three weeks in the history of the American penal system, perhaps one of the darkest periods on record. In four states, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, the systemic abuse and neglect of inmates, and especially mentally ill inmates, has been investigated, chronicled and disclosed in grim detail to the world by lawyers, government investigators and one federal judge. The conclusions are inescapable: In our zeal to dehumanize criminals we have allowed our prisons to become medieval places of unspeakable cruelty so far beyond constitutional norms that they are barely recognizable.

So begins a hard-hitting expose in the Atlantic regarding the U.S. government's refusal to investigate allegations of "grotesque abuses" of mentally ill prisoners in federal penitentiaries, in the wake of similar exposes of conditions in state and local lockups.

The informative article continues HERE.

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